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Millions stranded without aid as dire hunger crisis grips W’Africa amid WFP funding crisis

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Millions stranded without aid as dire hunger crisis grips W'Africa amid WFP funding crisis

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), in June, kicked off a large-scale emergency food and nutrition assistance operation in the Sahel.

But a funding crunch means WFP will be able to assist just over half of the 11.6 million initially targeted – leaving millions stranded without aid as the lean season sets in and hunger starts to peak. Mali and Chad will be hit the hardest, with 800,000 people at risk of resorting to desperate measures to cope, including engaging in survival sex, early marriage, or joining non-state armed groups.

WFP’s lean season response works to boost national governments’ efforts in tackling hunger as they grapple with the combined effects of conflict, the climate crisis, and soaring costs of food and fuel. WFP had initially targeted 11.6 million women, men and children – out of 19.2 million people in humanitarian need – in Burkina Faso, Chad, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and north-eastern Nigeria from June to September 2023. But funding constraints have forced WFP to roll out assistance for just 6.2 million of the most vulnerable people – with a focus on refugees, newly displaced people, malnourished children under 5, pregnant women and breastfeeding women and girls.

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“We’re in a tragic situation. During this year’s lean season, millions of families will lack sufficient food reserves to sustain them until the next harvests in September and many will receive little to no assistance to tide them through the gruelling months ahead. We must take immediate action to prevent a massive slide into catastrophic hunger,” said Margot Vandervelden, Regional Director ad interim, for Western Africa.

“We need a twin-track approach to stop hunger in the Sahel – we must address acute hunger through humanitarian assistance, while tackling the structural causes of food insecurity by increasing investments in resilient food systems and expanding government social protection programmes,” Vandervelden added.

Food insecurity has reached a 10-year high in West and Central Africa, affecting 47.2 million people during the June-August lean season – including 45,000 people in Burkina Faso and Mali facing catastrophic hunger according to the March Cadre Harmonisé analysis. Malnutrition rates have also surged, with 16.5 million children under 5 set to be acutely malnourished this year – an 83 percent rise from the 2015-2022 average.

Conflict remains a key driver of hunger in the region, leading to forced population displacements that have emptied out entire villages and limit communities’ access to land for farming. Conflict is also spreading across the region and into coastal countries risking a spread of instability into new and previously stable areas. In just six months, the number of people fleeing violence in the Central Sahel and seeking refuge in four Gulf of Guinea countries has nearly quadrupled, rising from 30,000 in January to 110,000 people in June.

WFP’s lean season response aims to provide life-saving food and nutrition assistance to families facing acute hunger at a time when food stocks dwindle. However, proactive investments in prevention and smart longer-term solutions can significantly reduce reliance on such emergency actions. These solutions include resilience-building activities, social protection programmes and anticipatory actions like climate insurance pay-outs.

In 2023, climate risk insurance pay-outs from the African Risk Capacity (ARC) totalling US$15.4 million enabled WFP to provide cash transfers to 490,000 people in Burkina Faso, The Gambia, and Mali who were impacted by drought in 2022. This response allowed farmers to recover from the impacts of droughts as they were able to meet their basic needs including purchasing food for their families and providing seeds for the next planting season.

WFP’s integrated resilience programme in the Sahel focuses on participatory watershed planning, land recovery and rehabilitation, and support for smallholder farmers – with links to school meals and nutrition activities. The programme has shown promising results, with participant households demonstrating increased capacities to withstand shocks and coping better during lean seasons. In Niger, for example, 80 percent of villages that received WFP resilience support did not require humanitarian assistance in 2022- unlike other villages in the same areas. This success meant that about half a million people did not need humanitarian food aid thanks to the long-term investments in resilience strengthening. Expanding these activities will be crucial in preventing emergency needs from escalating.

In partnership with UNICEF, WFP is also implementing a social protection programme in Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Mauritania, contributing to strengthening national systems, supporting millions of people through cash-based transfers and complementary services. The programme also contributes to strengthening national capacity to anticipate and respond to climatic and other shocks that lead to humanitarian need.

To ensure adequate response to the emergency needs across the five Sahel countries over the next six months (July- December 2023), WFP requires US$ 794 million.

 

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